Here’s an Early Prediction for Cubs’ Opening Day Roster

Well Cubs fans, you actually made it. The sluggish offseason is finally nearing its long-awaited conclusion as pitchers and catchers will officially report to Mesa this Wednesday. Thus begins an abbreviated road to Opening Day on March 29.

Your patience was rewarded this past weekend with the blockbuster signing of Yu Darvish to a six-year, $126 million deal. That move filled the 40-man roster, so now begins the process of shuffling those players around and determining which 25 will break camp when the season starts.

The Cubs’ roster composition gives them a tremendous advantage, but it will also make for some difficult decisions. With the exception of the rotation, the overall depth might be the best we’ve seen during Theo Epstein’s tenure in Chicago.

With the full understanding that unforeseen circumstances could crop up during the month-plus stretch of spring training, I think we’ve got a pretty good handle on how the roster will shape up. Below are my predictions for the Cubs’ 2018 Opening Day roster, including each player’s respective Steamer projections.

Pitching staff (13)

Starting pitchers (5)

Tyler Chatwood (1.9 WAR, 137 IP, 4.09 ERA/4.23 FIP)
Yu Darvish (3.5 WAR, 173 IP, 3.82 ERA/3.70 FIP)
Kyle Hendricks (2.7 WAR, 170 IP, 4.06 ERA/4.10 FIP)
Jon Lester (3.5 WAR, 198 IP, 3.91 ERA/3.90 FIP)
Jose Quintana (4.3 WAR, 199 IP, 3.51 ERA/3.59 FIP)

Relief pitchers (8)

Steve Cishek (0.6 WAR, 65 IP, 3.93 ERA/4.01 FIP)
Brian Duensing (0.1 WAR, 30 IP, 3.86 ERA/4.05 FIP)
Carl Edwards Jr. (0.6 WAR, 55 IP, 3.38 ERA/3.56 FIP)
Justin Grimm (0.1 WAR, 35 IP, 3.94 ERA/4.03 FIP)
Mike Montgomery (0.2 WAR, 45 IP, 3.96 ERA/4.13 FIP)
Brandon Morrow (1.1 WAR, 65 IP, 3.58 ERA/3.64 FIP, 36 SV)
Pedro Strop (0.3 WAR, 40 IP, 3.33 ERA/3.47 FIP)
Justin Wilson (0.9 WAR, 55 IP, 3.20 ERA/3.34 FIP)

As a result of the Darvish signing, Mike Montgomery will begin the year out of the bullpen. He will undoubtedly be available for spot starts throughout the season in the instance of an injury to the starting five, and Joe Maddon may also prefer to run with a six-man rotation in late summer and/or down the home stretch.

In addition to Montgomery, the Cubs have Jen-Ho Tseng, Adbert Alzolay, Alec Mills and Duane Underwood Jr. in the minor league system. Then there’s Eddie Butler, who’s on the roster but is out of minor league options.

Justin Grimm is coming off of a forgettable season and recently “lost” his arbitration hearing (the first of its kind under Epstein and Jed Hoyer), but I believe he will begin the season with the big league club in hopes of a dramatic rebound. Since the 29-year-old is out of option years, the Cubs will be forced to part ways with him (either DFA, trade, or both) if he doesn’t break camp with them.

This all assumes, of course, that the Cubs will employ an eight-man bullpen. Historically, Maddon has stuck with the philosophy that the more arms, the better.

Position players (12)

Infielders (5)

Javier Baez (2.2 WAR, 597 PA, .262/.314/.462, 22 HR, 71 RBI)
Kris Bryant (6.2 WAR, 658 PA, .285/.390/.536, 33 HR, 94 RBI)
Tommy La Stella (0.3 WAR, 139 PA, .264/.342/.377, 2 HR, 12 RBI)
Anthony Rizzo (4.9 WAR, 658 PA, .283/.394/.545, 34 HR, 101 RBI)
Addison Russell (2.9 WAR, 525 PA, .252/.326/.444, 18 HR, 63 RBI)

Outfielders (5)

Albert Almora Jr. (1.1 WAR, 385 PA, .279/.318/.431, 11 HR, 49 RBI)
Ian Happ (1.8 WAR, 560 PA, .250/.321/.463, 24 HR, 71 RBI)
Jason Heyward (2.4 WAR, 560 PA, .268/.344/.419, 12 HR, 55 RBI)
Kyle Schwarber (2.1 WAR, 455 PA, .243/.342/.489, 27 HR, 70 RBI)
Ben Zobrist (1.7 WAR, 570 PA, .262/.354/.416, 12 HR, 56 RBI)

Catchers (2)

Willson Contreras (3.1 WAR, 542 PA, .271/.346/.464, 19 HR, 70 RBI)
Chris Gimenez (0.1 WAR, 96 PA, .212/.299/.349, 3 HR, 12 RBI)

Probably the greatest strength of the Cubs’ roster is the versatility of the position-player group. This allows Maddon to feel comfortable carrying one less player, since nearly every position has a plethora of backup options.

Adding Darvish actually has an impact here as well, since the Cubs will most likely begin the year with Chris Gimenez as the backup catcher. This will allow Victor Caratini to get a little more grooming in the minor leagues and allow the Cubs to have a veteran presence behind the plate on Contreras’s off days.

We’ll see changes to these 25 names as necessity dictates, but the Cubs are definitely primed for another World Series run in 2018. They have the depth necessary to contend and have fortified their pitching over the offseason. Time to kick back and embrace the target while trying not to suck, or whatever Maddon’s saying will be this go-round.

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